Monday, November 12, 2012

LED Retro-Hacking

If you've been around mountain bikes as long as I have, you probably remember halogen bike lights.  You know, the ones that sucked so much power (and turned it directly into heat) that to get more than a couple of hours of pathetic yellow light you needed a battery that replaced your water bottle?  (Don't worry, if this concept is new to you, you didn't miss much).   

Anyway, it turns out that I have one of these monstrosities in my basement, and being a die-hard New England cheapskate, it felt wrong to throw it away for something more modern.  A little internetting (yes it's a word), found these LEDs for a trivially small amount of bling, and I couldn't help but wonder if the gigantor heat-sink of old might be convertible to something usably modern.  

Spoiler:  it can.   and Here's how...

Step 1: Cut apart the original reflector and remove the bulb (yay, DREMEL).  

Step 2:  Solder some wires to the original pins and epoxy everything in place (forgot pic...)

Step 3:  Solder the LEDs in series on a little circuit board (I repurposed the board from an old garage door opener for this, cutting up the ground plane to make the layout I needed.  This was nice for heat dissipation too (then I forgot to take a picture).  Some thermal paste can be used here to make sure the board pulls heat from the LED, but it may not be necessary.  

Step 4:  Attach the power wires to the circuit board

Step 5:  Superglue the circuit board to the old reflector, which was ground down to have a bigger opening.  

Step 6: Superglue the base of the old bulb to the back of the circuit board 

Step 7:  Install modified bulb / reflector (with the right polarity!)

Step 8:  retake the night!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Goals, struggles, winning, not necessarily in that order

They say time passes faster as you age.  Nonetheless, I was more than a little surprised when I noticed my last post, which I feel like I wrote last month, was more than a year old.  The reason for the prolonged absence from [a variety of things, including] blogging, comes down to one word:  Priorities.

There's really nothing I like more than whipping up some good snark to plaster on the internet, but sadly, public equivocation on topics of human powered transportation wasn't, and is not, the path to a comfortable retirement, or even a hot lunch.  Given that I'm not the spring chicken I used to be (someone recently dared to make the joke that I was eligible to race with the masters!), entertaining you all had to take a temporary back seat to making some progress on my future.  This brings me to the topic of the post...

The last year has been filled with a lot of successes: a graduate degree, an awesome job and my best cyclocross season yet (despite being 100% on the race-into-shape plan).  While it may seem like all unicorns and rainbows, the last year has also been one of the most psychologically difficult ones I've ever experienced (life changes are rough like that).  In the process of climbing over the center-console to get between the passenger seat and the driver's seat of my own life, I learned a few things and, as is de-rigeur for this blog, most of them relate nicely to sport.

So... before I get back to being my snark-tastic, rambling self (don't you worry, California has plenty of fuel for that fire), let me share three things you should all take to heart if you want to kick some ass and take some names, on the bike or in your daily grind:

First and foremost, no matter how intelligent, talented and motivated you are, you will achieve nothing without well-defined, actionable goals.  In today's world we are inundated with choices.  A person can customize everything from the music on the radio,  to the way his car responds to pedal input.  Similarly, there are a zillion companies out there doing a zillion things in a zillion different fields.  With human knowledge doubling every few years, there's really no end to the number of things a person could choose to spend an entire career on.  If a person does not simply choose something, he can get lost in improving his personal radio station until he's old and gray, while never making an inch of progress.  There is no optimum, only the travelled and the untravelled road.

On the flip side, simply defining a goal can often be enough to achieve it.  I recall early in this year's cyclocross season, the team captain asked everyone to go around at dinner and define a goal for their next race.  After articulating the goal of a top 25% finish in my field (a result I had yet to have that season), I succeeded for the next three races running, starting the very next day.  It is all in your head, so you might as well point your head in the same direction as your bars (or career)...

Second, while focus is a priceless virtue, having laser beams for eyes can only go so far without some base[line skills] to back them up.  Wanting something is not the same as going after it, and while the former may be required to motivate the latter, desire alone is insufficient to achieve anything truly difficult; and can, in fact, be debilitating.   Dan Ariely articulates this beautifully in his book The Upside of Irrationality, with some experiments on over-motivation.  The short summary, if you want something too badly, yearning will distract you from the work you need to do to achieve it.  Worrying about bike racing will not make you faster as efficiently as riding your bike.  In the professional case, worrying about doing well in a technical interview will not get you as far as two months reading algorithms textbooks and coding practice problems (the latter DOES, in fact work, in case you were wondering).  Of course the latter is a big investment, requires planning and is difficult to be disciplined about, especially when you're spending half your time thinking about how badly you want to succeed and worrying about what will happen if you don't.

Enter #3:  You are not alone, provided you weren't a D-bag right up to the moment you needed something. (Translate: social capital is real, and you should build some)

Over the past year, as I was grinding through a thesis, some screwed-up relationships, a job search and an existential crisis or two, I came to find a lot of people who were genuinely interested in seeing me succeed, and would always go out of their way to give me a hand up in little ways when I needed it.  While some help came in the form of recommendations or job leads (and OMG thanks for those, btw).  The majority came in the form of intangible support.  A pint here, a dinner there, an extra fifteen minutes lingering in the street chatting after a long ride:  small gestures that communicate loyalty and camaraderie.     These gestures don't answer the interview questions or write the thesis chapters, but they give you the emotional stability that allows you find the answers on your own.  Value your friends, take good care of them, and they will take care of you.

Until next time, on the left coast!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Supercommuter, the Tire

Being someone who rides a bike like most people drive cars (but way harder), a good tire is more than a little important.  A tire needs to roll fast, wear long, grip in any weather, and resist assaults from all manner of roadside detritus.  Some years ago I find the Panaracer T-Serv (28mm), and have been riding them ever since.  This week I wore my third Panaracer T-Serv PT in a row all the way down to the threads with a grand total of two punctures over the life of all three tires.  That's less than 1 puncture per tire lifetime.  I don't know how many thousands of miles that is between punctures, but whatever the number is, it's a lot...  Panaracer, your messenger tires rock.  Please send me free ones. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Saving you from yourself

Continuing on the theme of injuries (I'm nearly all the way better, yeay!) Amy's dog, Everett had knee surgery today (and seriously, if I could recover like this guy I'd actually be invincible).  In the to-go bag from  the vet came one of those giant collars that dogs with wounds wear.  We decided to see how it worked for injured cyclists.

Moms, you'll never have to tell your kids not to pick their scabs again:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

All bleeding stops, one way or another.

Mountain bikers (and cyclocrossers), in sharp contrast to most roadies (present team affiliates excluded), are usually a lot of fun to hang out with.  I've often tried to put my finger on exactly what makes this true, and I'm sure there are a few key elements, but it was the one roughly described by the title of this post that pressed on me today. Those who love riding trail tend to have a pleasingly casual approach to adversity (and risk) that ensures just about whatever craziness occurs, it's gonna be a good time:  If you survive it makes for a decent story; if you don't, the story is probably much better. In either case, you're laughing all the way home.  Even if you are (this is a real list from the last few years):
  • Duct taped into your bike shoes for a 7 day stage race
  • Having gravel scraped out of your face with a piece of gauze
  • Wearing a monocle-shaped black eye from face-planting on the end of your handle bar
  • Braking by jamming your shoe in your rear tire
  • Freezing your entire hand to a CO2 cartridge
  • Falling in a river on a 25-degree day
  • Bending back a derailleur hanger with a rock
  • Riding singletrack all morning with only one crankarm
Or, as today might have it, finding out how fast you can ride a flat downhill on your way home from the woods:

It's cool, he races cross...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Things to Like About Being Injured

You're probably thinking to yourself, "man, this is gonna be a short post" but don't go jumping to conclusions already.  I'll admit the Things to Like About NOT Being Injured list is a little longer,  but if you think about it for a minute, you might agree that a little bit of gimp isn't such a bad thing every once in a while.   

As an endurance athlete, a professional or any other position in life where people are respected for strength, resilience, hard work, etc. being good at what you do doesn't necessarily make your life any easier.  For a person with any ambition, success makes life harder. Ever heard the saying, "people are promoted a level of incompetence"?  Whenever you succeed you get pushed harder until you're going flat out can't hold it together any more.   Despite knowing about this trap, must of us type-As end up falling into it anyway.

For the professional type, just deciding to have a rest is usually considered a sign of weakness.  Having to take a rest, for instance because you killed yourself getting that last big deal, is a badge of honor.  Similarly, shirking your training schedule because you don't feel like riding is lazy.  Watching movies all day with a bowl of popcorn and a beer because you had a spectacular crash in the reckless pursuit of glory is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged.

In a world of keeping appearances, a well gotten injury is the surest socially acceptable path to indulgence and sloth.  Let's examine some of the specific benefits:
  1. Personal Appearance:  While some elements of hygiene are pleasurable, like showers; others are a pain in the ass, like shaving and hair primping.  Injured?  No problem.  That five-o-clock [last Wednesday] shadow helps you communicate to the world just how badly you're hurting without having to complain (complaining is counter-productive, see #2).
  2. Around the Office:  If you manage to hurt yourself in a sufficiently spectacular way, the highly exaggerated stories of your near-death experience will precede you.  You'll get toughness points for playing down your injuries when your co-workers ask "OMG, are you okay?"
  3. Life's Little Annoyances: Forgot your keys downstairs?  "No, no, no! Don't get up.  You're hurt!  I'll get them for you."
  4. Prescription Painkillers:  There's a reason they keep these things away from regular people, but now you're special! (and as high as a kite)
  5. Priorities:  In athletics, most of your life resolves around causing yourself different sorts of pain: Lactic acidosis, eschemia, fatigue.  You've learned to endure it; even convince yourself that you like it.  Now your only objective in life is to make pain go away.  Refreshing isn't it?
  6. Significant Others:  All relationships are a compromise, but if you're hurt you get what you want.  My mom reads this blog, so let's just say you get to pick the TV shows. 
While all this is pretty sweet, one must be careful not to milk it too hard.  The entire magic of the injury phenomenon is that the perception of how bad you're hurting or how honorably you sustained your injury exceeds the reality.  Like airlines pricing into the demand curve, you're merely capturing the surplus sympathy between your actual disability and the perception of that disability.   The moment the perception and the reality come into line the gig is up, and if you get caught setting monopolistic sympathy prices for your gratitude you'll never enjoy being hurt again.

 See, being hurt isn't that bad, as long as you get better before it gets old...

(now back to that thesis)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Always Wear a Helmet

So I've always been a dirt rider, and an endurance rider a that, but sometimes all your friends decide to jump off a bridge and despite your better judgement you decide the drop looks like fun.  < leap >.  Rumor has it my current alma mater is pretty good at road racing, and since I used to ride bikes all the time, said pretty good road team is incessantly trying to to get me to pedal on pavement.  Fine.  You Win.  But I'm not gonna be fast! (the last time I was on a road bike was 2010).  And so begins the story of Hubris' ride and fall...

It all started in last weekend at the Tufts campus crit, which I'm told is one of the most technical criterium courses on the east coast.  As a trail rider who knows his way around a bike, I was excited and terrified all at the same time:  Excited because I'd be bringing Cat 1 off-road bike handling guns to a Cat 4 roadie knife fight; terrified because I'd be trying to ride a bike through a Cat 4 roadie knife fight.  Really, it's a wonder they avoid stabbing themselves most of the time. (while concurrently making me look like a couch potato fitness-wise)

Let's digress a moment to understand my perspective on this road racing thing:  I'm a guy who races with big spacing at average speeds of 14mph; on dirt, which is soft; dodging trees, which don't move; on a bike that eats obstacles the size of baseballs for breakfast.  Now take this same guy and put him on a bike that feels like a toy, speed him up to double the pace, replace dirt with concrete and add a couple dozen clean shaven 20-somethings as fit and aggressive as they are squirrely bike-handlers to swarm about while whipping around in circles until everyone is blind from oxygen-deprivation.  They tiptoe on the brink of disaster where the minimum penalty for failure is ending up like a lemon skin after an evening in a french kitchen.  This is pretty much the definition of scary. 

With the above perspective in mind, you can understand why the strategy for said most technical crit on the east coast was "Get to the front. Stay there.  Don't get in a wreck.  [win?]".  At the start of lap 2, I took the lead in an effort to test the field's cornering jones.  At the end of lap 2 it was me, two tails (Tufts, Villanova) and gaaaaaaaaaaap.  "Sonofa---, umm guess we gotta make this stick?"  With my current level of fitness (none), and the number of for-real crits I'd raced before (none), this development was less than ideal.  On the other hand, it was better than sitting-up in a writhing ball of sketchiness for 35 min, and we did eventually stick the break.  The few that managed to hang (the two originals plus a few that bridged on, including Steve from MIT) were glad to keep the ante up in the corners until we were sliding out one guy about every three laps in corner 2 (ouch).  Only five guys rolled to a sprint in the end, but MIT's winning move was blocked by yet another crash that ruined my lead out for a teammate.  If only we had a few more laps, we could have just crashed out the rest of the sprint and gone 1-2, but I'll take 3-5 any day.

Fast-forward to this week:

Coming off a successful race at Tufts, I was ready to make some moves in New Haven.  I was a little under the weather so the hilly circuit race was not my best performance, but this crit, man, this one was gonna be AWESOME.  I had one other teammate in the race (Loomis) and since I sprint like a little girl with a sprained ankle, the plan was to drag his 200lb diesel tractor to the finish and make him a hero on the downhill sprint.  I'd cover all the attacks, but otherwise sit in until the last lap where I'd bury myself on the the back stretch and give Loomis the clean line to the finish. Deal?  Deal. 

Everything started out according to plan.  Loomis and I were right up in the top five, and I was lazily grabbing all the wheels of riders trying to ride off the front.  Then came the first prime lap.  Now, remember that I sprint like a little girl but I'm also easily bored, and being up near the front I was in a great position to make some moves.  Even better, the guy making an early break for it was the climber who exploded the pack the day before in the hills.  In other words, the little girl with the busted ankle had a chance to throw down against another little girl with two broken legs. GAME. ON.

With 100yds, a 90-degree corner and a long downhill straight to the finish, I jumped into chase.  He was on the inside.  Coming through fast, I wanted the inside but with the pack coming on I couldn't count on a clean cut behind him from the wide side so I opted for the wide line. In retrospect, I should have given the rest of the pack a curt, "I'm cutting in and if you're there, I WILL run you over", then taken the inside line but hindsight is 20/20. I went wide and hot.

Unsurprisingly, the leader (Williams) took a terrible line through the corner from the middle of the road and took it all the way out to the curb, cutting me off and causing me to scrub all my speed. I still had position so I got on the gas, coming out of the saddle to a full sprint.  Being cut off turned me into a ball of blind, snarling rage.  BLIND. SNARLING. RAGE.  Williams would be buried for his insolence, save for divine intervention, and I don't have much belief in god at the moment so I was pretty confident of the outcome. 

God may or may not exist, but if he does he realllly wants to remind me that I am NOT a sprinter.  Three pedal strokes into my merciless attack, my left cleat released on an upstroke and threw me over my bars at a speed I care not estimate. Thanks to some MTB ninja skills I managed to roll through the impact with only a bit of road rash (and maybe a cracked rib) but returning to my bike I found my wheels would not spin.  My helmet, well, looked like this: 

...and so ended my second for-real criterium.  Down two wheels, short a pound of flesh and in the market for pedals that don't suck.  As a whole, this pretty good road racing team of ours had a pretty solid week, running away with the team omnium and taking top 5 spots in lots of categories.
The MIT success story is not in small part due to the fact that they're a scrappy bunch, Including this lady at right who rode back to a top 5 after dragging her crashed butt out of a ditch, and her teammate who blew out a knee on Saturday and then finished not one, but two crits on Sunday.  If only we could get some of them on mountain bikes!

Fortunately the collegiate field as a whole, but especially team MIT, has a great sense of humor.  While I may not be much of a roadie I toss a mean heckle, and our team has its own megaphone... 

Thanks team MIT for a great weekend, even if you did try to kill me.